Friday, March 25, 2016


It seems as if every time I turn on the TV lately, there is a news report about some food product being recalled due to bacterial contamination from everything from salmonella and E. coli to listeria and a few other words I can’t spell or pronounce because they contain every letter of the alphabet in random order.  One NBC report said that approximately 76 million people per year suffer from foodborne illnesses.

That’s a heck of a lot of stomach cramps. 

One medical spokesperson on TV advised that if you want to reduce your odds of getting sick, you should cook all food to an inner temperature of at least 160 bacteria-killing degrees. Also, you should be certain never to leave any leftovers, especially dishes containing meat, poultry, fish, dairy or eggs, unrefrigerated for longer than two hours. 

After hearing that, I figured I should have been dead years ago. 

Back when I was in grammar school, I used to carry my lunch, usually tuna-salad or egg-salad sandwiches, in just a paper bag, not even a lunch box, which I shoved into my desk.  There was nothing to keep the sandwiches cold. And in May and June the classroom usually was about the temperature of the Sahara. 

My sandwiches just sat around from the time I left home at 7:30 in the morning until I finally ate them at noon – way beyond the recommended two-hour “safe” limit. My lunch should have been so full of live bacteria by the time I ate it, I’m surprised when I sat down in the cafeteria, the sandwiches didn’t leap out of the bag and dance across the table.  But I never got sick. 

Back then, I also drank eggnog, and when my mom baked cakes, I licked the cake batter from the beaters, not even caring (or aware) that both contained raw, and perhaps deadly, salmonella-infested eggs.  

Maybe ignorance was bliss, because once I started hearing about everything that could contaminate food, I became more and more paranoid. Even back when I first got married, I used to nag my husband about what he ate.

“Any pizza left?” he’d ask me.

“Yes, but it was left out on the table for two hours and five minutes, so it’s not safe to eat now. I’m going to toss it out.” 

Had I told him I’d just lost our life’s savings at the racetrack, he couldn’t have looked more upset.

“Toss out a perfectly good pizza?” he asked, clearly aghast. “When I was single, we’d leave pizza out on the counter overnight and then eat it cold for breakfast the next morning! It never bothered us.”

“Well, times have changed.  That same pizza probably would put you six feet under today!”

 “Well, yeah,” he muttered under his breath, “because it would be about 5 years old.”

 One newspaper article I read a while back still puzzles me, though.  It said that a group of people at some church picnic all got deathly ill from eating bruised tomatoes.

I’d never really considered tomatoes to be any sort of potential health threat before, but after I read that, I found myself carefully studying them for bruises. 

The problem was, I wasn’t even sure what a bruised tomato looked like.  Was it black and blue like a human bruise? Brown, like on a banana? I noticed a little indentation on a tomato in the supermarket one day, so I took it over to the produce clerk.

“Do you think this might be a dangerous bruise?” I asked him. “Or is it just a harmless dent?” 

The look he gave me told me the only thing he thought was dented was my head. 

I also became wary of fish and seafood after I saw a professional fisherman on TV who said fresh fish should have no odor whatsoever.

 “If fish has a fishy odor or even worse, it smells like ammonia, it’s old!” he said. “Don’t eat it!”

After that, I sniffed so many fish, I felt like an otter.  Whenever I ordered seafood in a restaurant, I’d immediately stick my nose in it…and thoroughly embarrass my husband.  

But the food that concerns me the most is chicken.  I blame a TV chef who was preparing chicken-cordon-bleu one night on his cooking show.

“After you handle raw chicken,” he said, “be sure to thoroughly wash your hands right away. Also, wash the counter, the dish you put the raw chicken on, and anything else that might have come in contact with it.  And then, wash everything all over again! You can’t be too careful with chicken!”

I love chicken. In fact, I eat boneless, skinless, organic chicken at least six times a week. However, I feel as if I should be wearing a Hazmat suit when I’m preparing it. And afterwards, I run around with a fistful of disinfectant wipes and wipe down everything that was within a five-foot radius of the raw chicken – including myself. 

Back when I was a kid, my dad used to take a whole, raw chicken, hold it up by the wings and make it dance on the kitchen counter. I would squeal with delight.

Now, I’d probably squeal with terror, imagining the chicken leaving a trail of a zillion potentially lethal bacteria across the counter.

All I can say is when I drive by a bunch of crows eating road-kill along the side of the road, I find myself wondering why they can eat stuff that’s been out in the hot sun for days, yet they don’t keel over afterwards. I also find myself wishing I could find out exactly what’s in crows’ digestive tracts that protects them from getting sick. Whatever is it is, I would love to manufacture it for humans to inject, so we’d never have to worry about getting sick from food again.

I’m pretty sure there are at least 76 million people who would be willing to pay me good money for it.

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